Effects on Mathematics and Executive Function of a Mathematics and Play Intervention Versus Mathematics Alone

Published in: Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, Volume 51, Issue 3, pages 301–333 (May 2020). doi: 10.5951/jresemtheduc-2019-0069

Posted on RAND.org on November 25, 2020

by Douglas H. Clements, Julie Sarama, Carolyn Layzer, Fatih Unlu, Lily Fesler

Early education is replete with debates about "academic" versus "play" approaches. We evaluated 2 interventions, the Building Blocks (BB) mathematics curriculum and the BB synthesized with scaffolding of play to promote executive function (BBSEF), compared to a business-as-usual (BAU) control using a 3-armed cluster randomized trial with more than 1,000 children in 84 preschool classrooms across three districts (multiracial or multiethnic, low income, 27% English Language Learner). Impact estimates for BBSEF were mixed in sign, small in magnitude, and insignificant. Most impact estimates for BB were positive, but only a few were statistically significant, with more in the kindergarten year (delayed effects), including both mathematics achievement and executive function (EF) competencies. Gains in both mathematics and EF can be mutually supportive and thus resist the fade-out effect.

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